ABA Midyear Meeting

ABA endorses 10 principles to improve gender equality in the criminal legal profession

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Women and men in dividing lines

Photo illustration by Sara Wadford / Shutterstock

Practicing criminal law as a woman has felt like “sprinting a marathon,” a 35-year veteran told the Women in Criminal Justice Task Force. She asked its members how she could possibly keep going at that pace, Maryam Ahranjani told the ABA House of Delegates. “Our section’s answer to her, to all who testified before the task force and to anyone who feels the same way, is this resolution,” said Ahranjani, a professor at the University of New Mexico School of Law and a member of the task force.

Resolution 501 adopts the Ten Principles to Achieve Gender Equity in the Criminal Legal Profession. The Criminal Justice Section’s Women in Criminal Justice Task Force recently published these principles after a yearslong investigation into barriers to hiring, promoting and retaining women in criminal law. According to the Criminal Justice Section, the task force based the principles on research and testimonies of female criminal lawyers who provided feedback through listening sessions, surveys and focus groups between 2018 and 2021.

Carla Laroche, a co-chair of the Women in Criminal Justice Task Force, also spoke in favor of the resolution. She shared the testimony of Andrea George, the executive director of the Federal Defenders of Eastern Washington and Idaho, who spoke to the task force during a listening session in Spokane, Washington.

“‘Practicing criminal law as a woman is like playing tackle football in a dress,’” said Laroche, an associate clinical professor at Washington and Lee University School of Law. “Let that sink in.”

Ahranjani said it was vital to hear and learn from the lived experiences of female criminal lawyers while creating the 10 principles. She described them as “the embodiment of the voices and the work in which we have engaged.”

A road map

The Women in Criminal Justice Task Force lists the following as its 10 principles:

(1) Create “culture change” by removing barriers to hiring, retaining and promoting female attorneys in the criminal legal profession.

(2) Acknowledge and address the intersectional challenges faced by women who identify with other groups that have been historically underrepresented or denied opportunities.

(3) Implement training on diversity, equity and inclusion; anti-racism; bias; and trauma-informed lawyering.

(4) Create transparent and equal recruitment, promotion and retention policies and connect attorneys to professional development opportunities.

(5) Implement policies and resources to address the “flexibility stigma” that often relates to motherhood, reproductive health care and other gender-related planning and decision-making.

(6) Provide mentorship, allyship and sponsorship programs and practices to increase women’s advancement opportunities.

(7) Offer counseling, therapy and other support to attorneys who encounter trauma and secondary trauma.

(8) Provide private spaces and time for lactation, rest and wellness.

(9) Recognize many women balance caretaking responsibilities with criminal legal careers, and improve access to high-quality, affordable care for children and other dependents.

(10) Implement continual, data-driven evaluations and incorporate feed-back from employees to help eliminate gender bias.

While the Criminal Justice Section works on many important projects, its chair, Justin Bingham, told the House none has been as consequential in recent history as this measure.

“The 10 principles in this resolution seek to provide a road map for moving forward with a more inclusive, welcoming and fair criminal legal profession,” Bingham said.

Resolution 501 passed overwhelmingly. CJS plans to share the task force’s report with state bar and specialty bar associations, practitioners and other institutions and encourage them to enact the 10 principles.

This story was originally published in the April-May 2023 issue of the ABA Journal under the headline: “Across the Divide: ABA endorses 10 principles to improve gender equality in the criminal legal profession.”

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